We’re all drawn to stories, especially funny ones. They’re the best teaching tools we have. According to an education study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, viewers of Stephen Colbert’s show learned more about campaign financing than those who watched other news. Colbert created a super PAC called “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” and walked his audience through the process by living it.
We learn through life’s stories. When someone loses a laptop full of personal information, it’s difficult to relate if your data isn’t involved and you’ve never been a victim of a data breach (assuming anyone matches that description).
It’s different for privacy and security advocates. It always feels like it’s your data that was lost. How do we make everyone else see the world the way we do? We bring them into the story. We tell the tale of privacy folly and how to avoid it. People will watch these stories, relate and change how they think about privacy.
Last year, Intel approached Jim Shields of Twist and Shout Media to work on a privacy edition of his wildly successful and tremendously funny Restricted Intelligence training series. We were hoping to address important privacy principles, such as accountability, privacy by design, data minimization, transparency and data access and retention. We worked together with subject matter experts at Intel and Jim’s creative team to produce scripts for Twist and Shout Media’s first-ever Privacy Edition series. We filmed six 4 to 5 minute episodes at Intel, which also brought more attention to privacy among our personnel as a “thing” people should think about.
Now, anyone can license these episodes for much less than they can create them. Before you do, you’ll have to convince your company’s compliance leaders to go for it. Your approach may vary, depending on your organization’s culture.
Champions of compliance typically do not welcome anyone making light of their cause. Remind them that privacy isn’t funny – people are. The path to winning hearts and minds is through a marketing approach. When you market good privacy behavior, you create fans—fans who will echo and amplify your message. Even better, you create human sensor nodes, reporting issues before they grow. That’s a compliance champ’s dream.
Twist and Shout Media describes the success of Restricted Intelligence on its site: “By getting to the crux of issues via the company funny-bone we found that employees not only watched and retained the messages, but they shared them amongst their colleagues too. And they actually looked forward to seeing more.”
You’re also marketing to your leaders and compliance champions. They want to shift culture, so remind them of the power humor has to broach tough topics: Harvard Business Review’s Leading with Humor describes the notion of “benign violation,” as provoking laughter when your topic is unsettling, but also made acceptable by the way it’s delivered. You watch, you laugh, you go home and you sleep. Then you wake up at 2:35 a.m. feeling unsettled about your social media privacy settings. Humor, when done right, is an incredibly powerful teacher.
The proof is in the results. Employees are responding to this privacy series with comments like, “wish all training would be this much fun to watch” and “best geek series: “The Big Bang Theory”; second best series: “Restricted Intelligence.”
Just to be clear, this approach isn’t proposed as a replacement for existing compliance training. It’s meant to augment your program with awareness by drawing attention to privacy and making it relatable.
It’s important to laugh. There’s research connecting laughter to reduced stress and other health benefits. Maybe you can get the support of your HR health advocates. And once you’ve led your entire company to fits of laughter, it might be time to start a super PAC and run for public office.
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About the Authors
Michael Diamond is the information security awareness manager at Intel Corporation. Mike brought his agency writing and visual design background to information security awareness in 2002, is a founding member and current president of the International Association of Security Awareness Professionals and enjoys writing songs, playing various instruments and being overly accommodating to his family.
Meredith Leitch is the privacy communications and training manager at Intel Corporation. Meredith has over 20 years of professional human resources experience with technology companies and is now responsible for promoting and educating employees about privacy in products and solutions via multiple awareness and training vehicles. She lives in Folsom, CA, with her husband and two teenage boys.
Jim Shields is the creative director and founder of Twist & Shout Communications. He is the author of “Three Guys Walk Into a Bar” – How to Thrive as a Creative Business and “Once More With Feeling” – How to Lead With Intimacy, Not Complexity (out soon).
 Stephen Colbert’s Civics Lesson: Or, how a TV humorist taught America about campaign finance (2014). The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania 2014. Retrieved from http://cdn.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/Stephen-Colberts-Civics-Lesson-release-6-02-14.pdf
 A. Beard. 2014. Leading with Humor, in Harvard Business Review.
 Humor helps your heart? How? (2017). American Heart Association. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/Humor-helps-your-heart-How_UCM_447039_Article.jsp#.WlV5bmyWzug